First they came for the GypsiesPastor Martin Niemoller
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Gypsy...
France has begun the first deportations of 700 members of the Roma Gypsy minority, to Romania and Bulgaria, as part of its controversial crackdown on communities officials hold responsible for criminal activity. The expulsions are set to be completed by the end of the month. Also affected by the law-and-order push are the nomadic "travelers" group the Roma are a subset of; delinquents and their families in France's troubled suburban housing projects; and human traffickers and the illegal immigrants they smuggle into France. But the highly publicized targeting of Roma in particular has been criticized as a cynical move by the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to seduce hard-right voters in the long march toward the President's 2012 re-election bid. It's also raising alarms from Romanian and European Union officials that France's drive may be fanning xenophobia and impinging on the rights of fellow E.U. citizens. Romania has been a member of the E.U. since 2007.
Worries about antiziganism in France are well-founded. The UN Commission on the Elimination of Racism has warned France about prejudiced and discriminatory language and acts. One of its members:
“Our concern is that the removal or return of the Roma has been done on a collective basis rather than examining their individual circumstances so it gives the appearance that a group has been identified rather than individuals.”
Unfortunately some politicians in all countries attack the Roma, perhaps thinking that it willl give them votes at little cost. The portrayal of Roma and the travelling community as thieves and criminals is a false one. Channel 4’s documentary 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding'. The Cutting Edge film had 5.3 million viewers – five times what the strand normally gets and its best show since 1996. The film, following four gypsy marriages across the country, showed a community with strong Catholic values with a somewhat conservative view of the world. They're faithful to their own traditions and customs with religion playing a very important part life.
The Roma, the people we know in the west as Gypsies, were said to have emigrated from India to the Balkans in the early Middle Ages. Yet they have retained their identity. Kept as slaves for centuries, they faced extermination during Romania’s World War Two alliance with Nazi Germany and forced assimilation under communism. Granted minority status only in 1990, a year after the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, they remain on the fringes of Romanian society, with little or no education or jobs among the Balkan country’s largely impoverished 22 million population.
In 1994 the Tories repealed the obligation of local councils to provide sites for travellers. It was estimated that Britain is short of about 3,500 sites for the 300,000-odd strong Romany and travelling population (most of whom live permanently in one place). Travellers have been forced to move across the country and sometimes camp illegally.
Things were little better unnder Labour, and now the coalition government has cut further, reversing policies giving incentives to councils to develop land for Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Jake Bowers runs the Gypsy Media Company, which provides education about Gypsies and Travellers, and presents Rokker Radio, a BBC programme for the Travelling community. He says that "the noose is tightening around the neck of the Gypsy and Travelling community". "If the government continues along these lines, Britain will see resistance and campaigns of civil disobedience on a scale not seen since the 60s," says Bowers, who grew up on the road as one of 17 children.
There have already been discussions among the UK's 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers about holding a series of co-ordinated protests, including jamming the motorway network with caravans. "We're ideally suited to disrupting the motorways: we live on the road, so it makes no difference to us to stop on the fast lane of a motorway for a couple of days," says Bowers. "There will definitely be a lot of non-violent, civil but radical actions if things carry on like this. We do it every day anyway: just our continued existence is an act of civil disobedience."